Tolerance through integration

Goals: A summer arts camp pairs disabled and nondisabled youths to teach social skills and promote an understanding of others.

July 15, 2002|By Jay Parsons | Jay Parsons,SUN STAFF

In an East Baltimore classroom full of children, computers and arts supplies, a blind mandolin player types 10-year-old Antonio Reid-Vaughn's name on a Braille typewriter and hands the printed card to him.

"Who else wants one?" asks the musician, Kurt Milam. Several hands go up from the children at this unusual summer camp, prompting a counselor to remind the participants: "Say your names. He can't see your hands."

Antonio has a type of attention deficit disorder. He is one of six students with a disability attending the Learning Independence Through Computers (LINC) summer arts camp. They are working and learning side by side with six students who are not impaired.

The integration of those with disabilities and those without makes this camp for children ages 7 to 14 the only one of its kind in the Baltimore area. Public schools traditionally separate children with disabilities into special-education programs, and even in inclusive settings, nondisabled students seldom interact with children with learning disorders or hearing and speech impediments.

Some of the nondisabled campers are there because their parents wanted them to learn to accept people with disabilities. Myra Robinson, a nurse from Harford County, sent three of her kids to the camp. "I knew they were a little afraid of being around kids who are disabled," she said. "I wanted them to have that exposure."

For parents of the disabled children, the camp is an opportunity to build their children's self-esteem and teach the children social behavior.

"For those of us who have children with disabilities, we don't have the same options," said Leslie S. Margolis, a lawyer at the Maryland Disability Law Center. "My daughter benefits from having kids who want to push her wheelchair, and it gives her an opportunity to be with kids who can talk with her and interact with her."

LINC arts camp, conducted at the organization's facility on Eastern Avenue, is the only children's summer technology program that maintains a 50-50 balance of campers with physical or mental disabilities and nondisabled campers.

A major feature of the camp is the production of claymation movies. Some of the movies are elaborate, with multiple scenes and background music. One film theorizes that dragons got their fire by eating red chili peppers. Another tells how a ballerina saw flowers and then took them.

The campers spent five days preparing the movies, molding clay figures, choosing backdrops, writing scripts and digitally photographing each scene. At week's end, all 12 productions received certificates for Best Claymation Movie.

"There's enough freedom with the software and activities I pick that they can go at their own pace," said camp director Jean Wunder, who taught special education in Virginia before joining LINC in 1997. There's structure, but not so that everyone has to be at the same point with their pencils on the same page."

"The more our differences are embraced, the more tolerant our children will be," said Beth C. Duffy, mother of 6-year-old Maeve, who is not disabled. "And our world needs more tolerance."

Duffy grew up watching other children poke fun at her sister, who had a speaking impairment. Duffy's 4-year-old son, Brian, has Down syndrome.

"If Maeve could grow up with a better spin on living with a sibling with a disability than I did, more power to her," Duffy said.

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